Election posters: soon to be on a lampost near you

Thursday, 3 February

Looks out of the question. For this to happen, the Greens would have to pull the plug before the finance bill is enacted.

Friday, 4 February

Given that the government is believed to favour a Friday polling day, marginally more likely than 3 February but still won't happen.

Thursday, 10 February

The Dáil returns in mid-January, so if problems were to emerge between the two government parties over the finance bill/climate change bill and Cowen opted to go to the Áras at that point, this date would be a runner. Not impossible but very unlikely.

Friday, 11 February

See above.

Thursday, 17 February or Friday, 18 February

Again, for these dates to become a reality, it would require the collapse of the government prior to the enactment of the finance bill. More likely than the previous week, but still hard to see it happen.

Thursday, 24 February or Friday, 25 February

If the government was to opt for a truncated finance bill or move to fast-track it through the Dáil by condensing the committee stages and getting civil servants to work through the night on drafting, then these dates are a possibility. But still a long shot.

Thursday, 3 March or Friday, 4 March

We're definitely getting warmer (and so hopefully) is the weather. If we're assuming Cowen will go for the full 25-day campaign (which excludes Sundays), then a dissolution of the Dáil at the end of the first week of February would see the election fall on either of these two dates. It's possible that the finance bill could be done by the end of the first week of February but it would be an ambitious time frame.

Thursday, 10 March or Friday, 11 March

Bullseye! Right now these two look the most likely dates for the general election. The finance bill is completed in mid February and, with the Greens unwilling to stay in government any longer than that, Cowen seeks the dissolution of the Dáil late in the second week of February, over that weekend or even, for all you non-romantics out there, on Valentine's Day – what better day for a break-up? A four-week campaign would bring us to these two dates. Possible, rather than probable. It's a little bit like the Aintree Grand National. There are so many unknowns that even the frontrunners have longish odds. But these two dates are the clear favourites.

Thursday, 17 March or Friday, 18 March

Thursday is not an option as it's St Patrick's Day. Friday is possible but holding a general election the day after St Patrick's Day would be messy. Would the Taoiseach attend the White House a day or two before polling? Won't happen.

Thursday, 24 March or Friday, 25 March

If the finance bill drags on and if the Greens need to stay a bit longer to get their desired legislation through, then these two dates come into play. Would mean the Dáil continuing well into the third week of February, which is possible but it is hard to see the Greens hanging around this long. Having St Patrick's Day in the middle of the campaign causes difficulties. Will ministers be keen to head off to the four corners of the globe when they are in danger of losing their seats? It might be a nice PR opportunity for the Taoiseach, however, to be hob-nobbing with Barack Obama a week before polling day.

Thursday, 31 March and Friday, 1 April

The same holds for these dates as a week earlier. Fianna Fáil would probably like to hold off until this point but the Greens are unlikely to wear it.